Who’s Still Standing,
Sitting or Otherwise?
A Brief Update On The Las Vegas Justice Court Election Results.
By Jessica Goodey, Esq.
It seems like no matter where you go, you cannot escape news of the election. It’s a presidential election year, which always makes for some interesting discussions around the office. Don’t worry though: This isn’t going to turn into a #TeamHillary or #TeamTrump thing. Let’s focus on the more local, albeit slightly less entertaining, Las Vegas Justice Court elections.
Nevada is one of 39 states that have some form of election for its trial court judges. Of course, there is much debate as to the merits of electing versus appointing judges, with impassioned arguments on both sides. Those arguments aside, it appears that most people focus on the District Court seats. Indeed, that’s where a lot of civil attorneys spend most of their practice…but that doesn’t mean the Justice Court seats should be overlooked.
The Justice Court is typically the first court with which most Nevadans come in to contact. It handles, among other things, DUIs and other misdemeanors; landlord/tenant cases; and all civil claims that do not exceed $10,000 in damages. However, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, the role of the Justice Courts will expand, as the Legislature recently increased the jurisdictional limit to all cases involving damages less than $15,000.1 Importantly, this $15,000 jurisdictional limit is exclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are allowed as a matter of law to the prevailing party.2 Thus, it is anticipated a significant number of car-collision cases will soon be filed in Justice Court rather than District Court, as Justice Court will offer a more expedited resolution, with a jury trial held within 120 days.
In Justice Court, two of the seven seats up for re-election (of the 14 total Justice Court departments) had only two candidates in the race for that seat and therefore were not on the ballot in the primary: Department 7 (Judge Karen Bennett-Haron and Vincent Ginn) and Department 13 (Judge Suzan Baucum and Shana Bachman). These departments will be on the ballot for the General Election in November.
The remaining departments had three or more candidates:
- In Department 3 (Judge Janiece Marshall, Sean Connell and Harmony Letizia), Marshall won 29.85 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating Connell who won 26 percent, and came in second place to Letizia who won 44.15 percent of the vote. Marshall and Letizia will face off in the General Election.
- In Department 4, incumbent Judgment Melissa Saragosa faced two challengers: Amber Candelaria and Jillian Prieto. Saragosa secured 58.97 percent of the vote, meaning she secured her seat on the bench based upon a newly enacted rule: Any Justice of the Peace candidate in a three-or-more person race who wins more than 50 percent of the vote wins the seat.3 Saragosa was one of three Justice of the Peace candidates to benefit from that new rule.
- In Department 6, Judge Bita Yeager faced Rebecca Kern and Jeff Rogan. This was a close race with the votes being split nearly evenly three ways. But, Yeager and Kern were able to pull ahead enough to move on to the General Election, amassing 37.79 percent and 31.28 percent of the votes respectively, while Rogan came in a close third with 30.93 percent.
- In Department 9, Judge Bonaventure procured 59.60 percent of the vote, securing his seat on the bench until the next election, handily defeating his challengers Steven Goldstein (18.62 percent) and Robert Kurth (21.78 percent).
Finally, in Department 14, Amy “JoAnne” Chelini also secured her seat on the bench, overwhelmingly defeating incumbent Judge Conrad Hafen (who you may remember from pre-election press regarding his handcuffing of a Public Defender). Chelini won 62.35 percent of the vote, while Hafen won 24.87 percent and the third challenger, Phung Jefferson, won 12.77 percent.
There can be no dispute that the Las Vegas Justice Court will be playing a larger role in the resolution of cases when the jurisdictional limit increases to $15,000, making the upcoming general election for the candidates in the remaining four departments that much more important. If you don’t know the candidates or who should get your vote, reach out to colleagues, go to one of the fundraisers or do some research online so you can make an educated vote. Since you never know when you will find yourself before one of those judges, do your part to make sure it’s a good one.
Jessica M. Goodey, Esq., is a partner at Becker Goodey, where she focuses primarily on personal injury and medical malpractice. Goodey is passionate about providing her clients with individualized and committed representation from start to finish. She recognizes the importance of her role in protecting her clients’ future and providing peace of mind.
- NRS 4.370 (as amended by AB 66, effective January 1, 2017)
- NRS 69.020, NRS 69.030; Royal Ins. V. Eagle Valley Construction, Inc., 110 Nev. 119 (1994).
- NRS 293.260(5) (amended by SB 5 in 2015).